Capitol Alert

California plastic bag ban heads to Jerry Brown

California lawmakers narrowly approved a sweeping plastic bag ban Friday, leaving Gov. Jerry Brown to decide the fate of the controversial bill in an election year.

The ban, the subject of years of debate, was one of the most heavily lobbied issues in the final days of the legislative session, with back-and-forth votes this week. The Senate approved the measure 22-15 on Friday.

The measure could be politically difficult for Brown, a longtime champion of environmental causes but a relatively moderate Democrat, especially on issues of concern to business.

In addition to banning lightweight plastic bags from grocery stores, the bill would have customers pay at least a dime for a paper or reusable plastic bag.

“The most simple elegant solution to avoid paying a 10-cent fee at a grocery store would be to bring a reusable bag, and that is the ultimate objective of this bill,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who carried the measure.

Opponents in the plastic and paper bag industries focused their attacks on the fee, characterizing it as a windfall for grocers. A prominent grocers union temporarily withdrew its support for the legislation after citing concerns that money from the fee would inflate store profits.

When Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, promoted the bill in his house, Jon Fleischman, the conservative blogger and former state GOP executive director, responded on Twitter with a hashtag: “NANNYSTATE.”

“This is big government taking over local agencies’ responsibilities,” said Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield.

The bill reflected a compromise between some industry groups and environmentalists. It allows plastic manufacturers to apply for grants from a $2 million state fund to change their operations to make bags sanctioned by the new bill.

But manufacturers nationwide remained opposed, saying it would put bag makers out of work.

Padilla said he had not spoken with Brown about the plastic bag ban and that “we’re taking nothing for granted.”

Still, Padilla said he “worked extensively” with Brown administration officials on the grant program and content of the regulation. More than 90 California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already banned single-use plastic bags, suggesting signing the bill may not be as difficult politically as it once might have been.

“We’ve seen a groundswell of support in city after city,” Padilla said.

Proponents argue the plastic bag ban will significantly reduce garbage and damage to wildlife.

Statewide legislation was rejected by lawmakers last year but revived with a provision including money to convert plastic bag plants to new uses. The Assembly passed the bill on Thursday, just days after it failed an initial test in the lower house.

Brown’s Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race, Neel Kashkari, said on Twitter on Thursday that the plastic bag ban effort was “embarrassing.”

“Poverty? Jobs? Education? Rebuilding the middle class?” wrote Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official. “Nope. Plastic bags.”

The plastic bag ban is one of hundreds of bills the governor will act on in coming weeks. His office typically does not comment on pending legislation, and it declined to comment Friday on the bag bill.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee